BUG OUT: Staying Away From High Density Population Centers

When choosing a Bugout Location, one of the primary factors in picking a site should be the population density of that location. In my opinion, the farther you are away from large areas of people, the safer you will be.

We’ve talked about this many times in the past, but I think it’s worth repeating; during an all-out collapse scenario, people will likely become one of the largest threats to your safety and security. During a societal collapse situation, areas with the highest population densities will be the most vulnerable to high levels of social unrest and crime, will experience the highest likelihood for epidemics and disease, and will see the highest death tolls due to lack of resources and sanitation.

When choosing a bug out location or survival retreat, we recommend staying as far away from these high density population centers as possible. To get an idea of where these areas are, and which areas are the best locations to Bug Out to, check out these maps and satellite images.

Population Maps

USA Night Map
Suomi NPP satellite imagery composite from April and October 2012. (Image: NASA)

U.S. Population Map
U.S. Population Map According to 2010 Census

Population Density Satellite Imagery
Population Density Satellite Imagery (PHOTO: NASA)

Population Density Map
Population Density Satellite Imagery – The Americans (PHOTO: NASA)

No matter what disaster hits, facing it in a large city is going to be a whole lot harder than facing it in a rural area. From breakdowns in delivery systems that will make it impossible to find food and water, to rampant looting and crime that will make living in the city a threat to your personal safety and security, the fact is most Major American cities are unsustainable death traps.


  1. John
    December 6, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    Did you know Montana is probably high on any bomb list due to the small and little known Coast Guard Facility which in the center for all positioning (non satellite) for our military.

    • Joe
      December 7, 2012 at 4:38 pm

      LORAN – C Station Havre Montana? It was shut down in Feb 2010.

      • It doesn’t mean they can’t and won’t use it. Could still be without anyone’s knowledge.

  2. John
    December 6, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    Although a good start, I would recommend finding a population by county map instead of by state. For example I know the UP of Michigan is NOT that populated as this map shows

    • Johnk
      December 7, 2012 at 6:34 am

      The UP is i great location (I live in SW Michigan and frequently vacation in the UP) but unless your traveling by boat you have to travel through the Whole state or come in through Wisconsin. And Grayling is home to the largest Army Reserve base in the country. And you have to be Prepared for the Winters. thats what will kill you.

      • Brian
        October 29, 2013 at 4:52 pm

        i too live in the SW Michigan area. But you dont always have to go to the UP. some places outside of Ludington where one of my families cabins are located the area around the 5 acre spread is state forest for miles. This gives us a perfect area to hunker down.

  3. Peter
    December 6, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    I’m interested by the picture of Australia (third photo) – the large area of high population just west of centre covers the Great Sandy Desert, the Gibson Desert and the Great Victoria Desert – probably one of the least populated areas of Australia. It’s also some of the least inhabitable land in Australia for humans.

    • Jamie
      January 5, 2013 at 1:34 pm

      That was investigated by NASA, BOM etc and the reason for the lights was due to fires and some other factors. They are going to make another photo soon that uses advanced technology and software to provide a better picture of population density. As well North Korea in some photos looks very dark yet that doe snot show actual population density.

  4. Carl
    December 6, 2012 at 6:30 pm

    The original source of this picture stated that some of these light sources may be from fires, just to answer those that have questioned the areas with light

  5. rev. dave
    December 6, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    First rule of not getting hurt in a fight is to avoid it, so distance really is your friend. But it may not be necessary to go into the Utah or Nevada deserts for safety.

    Remember, all those city folk you worry about will be fighting everybody else on their way out, so many won’t make it. Others will try to loot in the burgs and get taken out there. And since the roads will quickly choke with wrecks and break downs and cars out of gas, many will not get out to where you are. So it may not be necessary to have your nearest town too far away – in fact you might be safer in some tiny country town where there would be neighbors to help create a decent defensive sized force. I just don’t think we can predict with any accuracy, as we don’t really know what scenario will play out.

    That doesn’t mean ‘do nothing’. It means stay flexible, try to have a Plan B, and a Plan C, maybe even a Plan D. It means if you already live in deep boonies, you’re lucky – and probably safe.

    • Good point. Sometimes staying where you are and letting the idiots kill themselves first is the best plan.

      • Prepared Patriot
        February 20, 2013 at 6:23 am

        Definitely smart to wait things out a while

    • Denise
      February 23, 2014 at 11:59 am

      I live in the booneys in Nevada. Close to the California border, and while it is very remote in the sense of, it’s not Vegas, we still have other issues. For instance, I am surrounded on all sides by the Federal Government. Nellis Airforce takes up a vast majority of southern Nevada, and from there you have the much fabled “Area 51” throughout pretty much the entire central part of Nevada. Mix that in with the Army bases up to the north of us and the Death Valley National park, with their growing rules and regulations, to the south, and I am pretty much the exact opposite of where I want to be. Which is out of Government reach. Or at least out of the reach of everyone who hates our government.

      We are a family of 4. The hubby and I and our 2 young children. We are in our early planning stages of going off grid completely. Our time frame is looking like next year. We want to be on our land with at least a basic dwelling and a garden ready to go for it’s beginning planting phases by early to mid March of 2015. We are obese and lazy right now, and the children, already entitled. We just can’t look at our lives and family and feel proud, how we are living right now. Both the hubby and I have had to survive before. He has lived in Arizona on 40 acres with nothing but a well for months at a time. I lived in a tent with my parents for a good portion of my childhood. Going back and forth every 2 weeks to the different state parks where we could camp (live) for free. I could prepare a full meal over an open fire by the time I was my daughters age, and wash all of our clothes in a basin with a board by the time I was her age also. She, however, can’t even make ramen in the microwave.
      I have watched beef being slaughtered and processed many times, but I have never done it myself. Definitely learning and practicing on that before we go out. We can both fish and are both a decent shot. I have spent the better part of my adult life, designing blue prints and floor plans out of pure hobby. Never went to school for it, but have drawn plans and helped successfully build sheds and outhouses. Persons got to start somewhere, right?
      Yep yep. We can’t take any of it anymore. The government, the broken schools, the rat race to get no where. You know, you can’t even home school your child without assistance and approval from the government? Without the proper “documents” and planned lessons approved by whoever, I will be considered neglectful to my kids if I teach them at home, and subject to “family court involvement”. Crazy.
      Yeah, were headed out. It’s scary as all get out. Terrifying. But I know we can do it. And, it’s quickly becoming a world where we might have to live this way to stay alive anyways, so why not start now. That’s the way I see it.

  6. Elevation counts too. Sitting up on a steep mountain significantly cuts down on cruising looters and encyclopedia salesmen even when there’s still fuel to go around and in densely populated states.

    • rev. dave
      December 7, 2012 at 8:27 am

      SchemaByte – good point, and one I should have made. In fact, any hostile environment will help protect you – mountains, swamps, deserts. So distance from population and ‘rugged’ terrain would be primo considerations (to include water sources of course).

      It was not lost on my that a Serbian officer whose name I have forgotten was wanted by the World Court for years, and managed to live openly (until the EU pressure got to his country) in a mountainous forested area of what was once Yugoslavia. Nobody could find him prior to that.

      There was also Eric Rudolph, who managed to ‘hide’ for a half dozen or more years in North Carolina’s mountains. Even his former special forces guys couldn’t find him. Then he got stupid and was caught by a local LEO dumpster diving….

      So I agree entirely, rugged and remote are the best places.

    • I HATE encyclopedia salesmen.

      • Jamie
        January 5, 2013 at 1:36 pm

        The ignorant will always despise those better and smarter than them.

        I HATE ignorant trolls.

  7. pluckpick
    December 7, 2012 at 4:55 am

    Just getting out of California’s LA Basin area was a boon for us…besides having high illegal immigrant population (from all countries, but predominately Mexico) it also has an overburdened utility system. Imagine having just 1% of 15,000,000 people walk through your neighborhood trying to find food, shelter, anything to survive- at your expense! …that’s 150,000 people!

    • rev. dave
      December 7, 2012 at 8:32 am

      150k looters is too many to fight. Again, distance is your friend.

      But even if only 1% of those get to you, you’re going to need lots of ammo and should probably have redundant replacement parts for your weapons, as well as redundant weapons unless you can (e.g.) replace a firing pin quickly while under fire.

  8. Cipaguto
    December 9, 2012 at 11:33 am

    Hey all, Bugging out is a great idea. Or not? There are many reasons why you don’t see lights in those parts of the country. No one’s there because nothing IS there. If you don’t die where you are you will most like find death when you get to where you might think none of the other millions of city dwellers are headed. Your first safe bet is to make your starting location your most familiar and strongest defend-able position. Prepare for the worst, let the hordes do the migrating and have a plan for what to do and where to go next. Even the most isolated and seemingly impossible to find location in Utah, Idaho or some obscure National Forest will be found and overrun. What do you think the nonpreppers plan to do? Nothing until it’s time to come and find you and take what you have. The farther I go from where I am in the SF Bay Area means hundreds of miles of more cities and towns and the routes that will be choked with desperate travelers.

  9. December 9, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    I think moving out of the big city was a great thing for me. I did not do it for bug out purposes or prepping, it just happened that way. Now I live approx 11 mi from the closest small town on 600+ ac. We are basically self sufficient: cows, goats, gardens, well water and many natural springs. It’s not only my safe place but it’s home and in the event of SHTF, hopefully we will be safe for a while at least! But we still have a plan “B” & “C” – never be without a backup plan!

  10. Margaret
    December 16, 2012 at 7:07 am

    Single mom of two, homeless and quite nervous @ earth changes..looking for community

  11. Josjh
    January 3, 2013 at 9:19 am

    I for one, will be heading to the cold north. i have enough equipment and training to survive the harsh cold for at least a year. My thinking is most people will want to head to where its warmer, not colder. Thats plan A anyways lol.

  12. Jeremy
    January 9, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    Forget the bug out. A 9 to 12 heavily armed organized team that has trained together can defend a prepared location from looters and such. This team needs to be able to fire and manuever as a two team force and must have some in the group that can provide marksman, sniper and rapid fire overwatch. The greatest fear would if the opposing force was the military or SWAT.

  13. Jeremy
    January 9, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    Don’t run, organize able bodies quickly (or have a plan in place) and stock up early. If you have a sizeable force, target a highrise building that has several stairwells to occupy and serve as a base of operations. Don’t advertise your guarded position, but be prepared to defend it when the bad guys arrive. I watch Falling Skies.

  14. Jeremy
    January 9, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    Absorb individuals and families that have moral value and contibute into your group. Drive off or destroy all the rest. Grow and retake ground (like the next highrise or house next to your location. As more people join your group your capability to expand your perimeter will grow. Create that buffer of safety.

    • Meehlticket@gmail.com
      March 2, 2015 at 8:08 am

      I agree… strength in numbers. I think people have to be careful not to avoid diversity. The synergy of a mixed group of people with varied interests, strengths, and knowledge can only increase a group’s chances of survival. But personally, from your comments, regardless of the strength of contribution, I’d want to be nowhere near you or your group. I like to think me and mine are more likely to survive if we avoid gang warfare.

  15. Tom
    January 28, 2013 at 4:58 am

    Sadly, As a retired police officer from NY who survived both WTC attacks (93,2001) I moved my family to the south to a very low populated area. I did it quietly and used excuses such as better cost of living, Etc. But, the real reason was because I know the next attack will be a nuke, no doubt in my mind and NYC was not the place I wanted to be. Be aware folks, if you are living in these places GET OUT NOW.

    • Meehlticket@gmail.com
      March 2, 2015 at 8:02 am

      I had a brief talk with a retired ATF agent – who claimed to “be in the know” with a variety of federal agencies. He sounded legit and not boastful. He mentioned that he was looking for land locally and I mentioned a pretty part of the county, gently rolling, not many neighbors, and he said it was too close to the coast. I was surprised as we are 5 miles from a bay, near the coast, and 100 feet up. He said that was not enough… now I’m worried!

      • Thaddeus Buttmunch MD
        November 9, 2015 at 5:40 pm

        You know, I’m actually politically pretty Liberal. I’m also a 55 year old Bachelor (cynical about permanent squeezes-lol) and an Internal Medicine Physician. But I find the topic of WTSHTF and TEOTWAWKI fascinating. I read “Break in Case of Emergency” which I know is sort of a Junk survival book. I agree that nukes or bioweapons, or just multiple attacks on planes by Al Qaeda and ISIS will not necessarily kill millions outright, but FUBAR up the Economy to such a degree that folks will get Desperate and Animalistic, sort of a Katrina on Steroids Countrywide. The Question is whether to build a Cabin near a major river tributary, and use a bass boat and pickup to bring in supplies, or get a pickup with a camper cap and park it camoflaged in woods somewhere. Baked beans, spam, and canned fruits and veggies to keep me going for a few Decades. OTOH, I could try to sneak into Canada and live off the land near Great Slave Lake.

  16. Cody
    January 29, 2013 at 8:19 pm

    I find this thread very interesting. Upon reading I took from what I thought was the best, and dismissed the worst. Bugging Out seems smart, but nothing far enough to deplete your entire fuel tank. I think terrain is very important, as well as a plan to cover at least a week (in case you need to move on for further resources). I have an Native American reservation 15 minutes from me and know many of the tribal members. There’s only 2 entrances and not easily traveled. Mountain ranges on both sides far to difficult for looters to ascend. Access to a lake which is the only access a highly motivated looter would have. But even then, they got a lot of Natives to deal with. Approximately 10.5 acres to every 1 resident.

  17. Shannon
    February 11, 2013 at 4:02 am

    Like some people have already said, the stupid people will, sadly, ‘take care’ of themselves. By the time people manage to filter out of those bright areas on the map, they will have already been killing each other and possibly even starving, if they refuse to leave the city. We have to worry about the people who actually know what they’re doing. That means military personnel and any trained survivalist. But you don’t have to worry about sharing resources with America’s millions. Just organize yourselves to defend against looters, and stay hidden if you can.

  18. David
    February 18, 2013 at 11:08 am

    There is an interesting concept known as the “drop dead distance”. How far can an average person travel from a town/city before he drops dead…following a SHTF situation.
    It is surprisingly low. 20 miles. By the time people realize they have to get out.. they are hungry and weak. Travel is dangerous..it will not be safe to walk openly on the roads. They will have to carry a pack of supplies. MOST people are not fit. So they will not get far.
    Distance and being hidden and with difficult access is your friend. If you normally need 4WD to get to your site.. that is good. All this will save you having to constantly “defend” yourself… and get on with surviving which will be hard enough.
    Having said that.. it is not that easy to find such a site. Ideally it is on the back 40 of a rural property at the end of a dirt road. The back 40 is at the edge of a large state forest.

  19. Tana
    April 9, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    The great thing about where I live is there is about 500,000 or so people in the whole state. And I live 45 mins from the mountains, where we go camping in every weekend and do some survival skills. I have even taught my 8 yr girl and 5 yr old boy some basic skills both for in town and in the mountains

  20. Orlin Harris
    July 18, 2013 at 10:28 am

    While I agree the big cities won’t be the best place to hole up here is what I know. As a hunter I see the increase in people in the field during the seasons, they are pretty much everywhere. Multiply this by many times when the SHTF and people exit the big cities. The point is there will be almost nowhere that won’t be occupied. Only desolate places where there are no resources like water, wood, or game will there be fewer people. The Zombies are coming and they are armed to the teeth!

  21. MKK
    July 18, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    The satellite maps showing night lights – it must be remembered that it only shows the electrified areas with high population density. Central Africa is highly populated and incredibly dangerous, for example.

  22. Heatblizzard
    August 19, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    Little do most people know but the real danger is an EMP either from the sun or man made (most likely China if they demand payment from the US and we cannot do it)

    An EMP will fry our grid because our grid is computerized which every circuit board will be fried due to the electricity going backwards briefly.

    Every transformer drum in the nation will need to be replaced and you think they store enough for a massive terrorist attack? Think again.

    I have heard from another source that parts for our grid come from guess where…………..China!

    There has been small groups that have urged Congress to harden our grid but Congress instead pushes these groups to the side and continues to act like jackasses.

  23. Heatblizzard
    August 19, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    One more thing. Most vehicles (especially computerized ones) won’t operate because when you turn over the key it creates an electric spark and that spark won’t be there to ignite the gas combustion.

  24. deadman ladydizzle
    August 31, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    In socal we practice barter and vaporizing. bugging out will not be an option with erny’s everywhere.

  25. Bugging out is a grave error in my humble opinion. You would go from your safe home and familiar neighborhood out into a sea of desperate people all heading in the same direction. Roads will become clogged, then what? Walk? Even if you get through, so will perhaps tens of thousands of others. Where will everyone go? Are people forgetting that other people already own the land all around cities of any size and far into the countryside? Where is all this free open land that bug out folks think they’re going to? Do people think they won’t be shot as looters by the legal landowners that are already living there if the SHTF? It’s better to be prepared and stock up your supplies for staying put for at least 2 or 3 months. The unprepared will die off quicker than most people would expect. There’s a far greater danger being out on the road with your family than staying put for awhile. Visit my blog to find out some interesting points that I calculated using the 2010 Census Results for the 289 largest cities in America with populations over 100K people. After all the 72 hour bug out bags are used up, there will be killing going on out on the highways in extreme proportions. Tempers will flare and many people will think they’re a badass until they get themselves killed. Starving people will go crazy and do anything to get food or die trying.

    • Thaddeus Buttmunch MD
      July 25, 2016 at 3:02 pm

      All Good Point. But what if you “KNOW”-or Suspect-there will be a Big Problem before it actually HAPPENS?? Sheltering in place during Hurricane Katrina-or even Sandy-was Not a very good option. Same if you live near Mount Saint Helens. As for the less obvious-TEOWAWKI scenarios, if an ISIS nuke hits-say-the NY Financial Center-it’s a 9/11 on Steroids, and you just KNOW the markets will tank (when they reopen in a new place) and the US Greenback will be worth Zimbabwean Currency in short order.

      THEN-if you can take the back roads-or perhaps, NO road-if you have an ATV-to a secret shelter you have already built-you might be OK.

  26. Jaime Rosario
    October 8, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    A few days ago I’ve heard a smart guy that told me “If you don’t want to pay taxes, move to a country without roads.”

  27. Nathan
    December 5, 2013 at 11:05 am

    I live in a small town in the mountains of Northwest Georgia. And I find that me stocking up on supplies draws no undue attention. Like today I went to Wal-Mart and bought 42 boxes of Rice-A-Roni. And no one even asked me why I bought so much. I mention that to give a real life example of another benefit of a small town…they usually have a higher than normal concentration of Preppers.

  28. Bella_louise
    January 17, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    What about West Virginia, lower on the population compared to other areas in the east, higher elevation, might be a better option. I was thinking to stay away from the desserts and the west due to 1. distance from my home and 2. distance from Yellowstone should it ever erupt.

  29. Jimmy
    August 15, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    Hello all. If you look at things logically then you will see that logic dictates that many people will be getting out, so with that in mind you must realize that most urban dwellers will think that the wilds will be the best place to head. “No disagreement there.” However one must remember once out of their vehicles typically people will travel no more than 8 miles to set up residency. So under these guidelines one would have to take into consideration 1: local pop. 2: most people will be within 1 mile from each other probably not knowing. So it becomes a mathematical equation, plan on this and be prepared to travel by foot further than others will most likely be willing to go. Also the least desirable location will most likely be the best, as long as it is able to be concealed and easily defensible. Just my $.02 worth.

  30. Kyle
    December 9, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    IMO, a “bugout location” really isn’t very realistic. I mean, what are you going to do when you get there? And that’s if you get there? If society breaks down due to say an EMP, well you then have to get to the bug-out location. If the EMP has knocked out lots of vehicles, the roads will be very clogged, so even if anarchy isn’t occurring yet, just getting to the bugout location could be very difficult.

    Rather, it is better to already be bugged out when the SHTF. This means being fairly self-reliant, and living in a community of like-minded people who know you and whom you can band together with to defend your community and sustain yourselves.

  31. Caribbean.beachestate@gmail.com
    June 5, 2015 at 11:20 am

    We have property in The Bahamas for sale and might have what you are looking for.

    We have an affordable, very safe, and resourceful location on what is called a Family Island. It is a fairly remote location with only a few other neighbors that share miles of beach and rolling hills. The property has spectacular views of ocean and the beach is just steps away.

    The Island consists of mostly fisherman and farmers: Locally grown food (with a 12 month growing season), wild game, and world-class fishing are the way of life. We have all modern amenities with out all of the modern problems.

    The property is ready to build with roads and utilities, also perfect for off-the-grid. We can help you with building approvals and other needs to help your transition to the Island and getting your new home built.

    We are willing to work something out for you to secure this property (if it is what you’re looking for) while in transition. We also provide two weeks free at our Vacation Rental Beach House for property buyers.

    If you would like to know more about this property and what we can do for you then please contact us.

  32. RGB
    August 19, 2015 at 9:40 am

    Oh Lord Jesus help me know what to do. Do we really know where to go? I don’t know how much longer usa gonna be safe. feel something is coming.

  33. sandra
    September 21, 2015 at 9:29 pm

    live in AZ family of 6. looking to share safe havan with others kinda like communal living!! anything going on like that? we would like to meet and join together our recourses and knowledge and contributions. anyone out there wanna share??

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